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Ultimate Guide to Cinematography: Everything You Need to Know

December 15, 2022

If you want to become a cinematographer, there are a few things you need to know. This ultimate guide will cover everything from the cinematography definition, its basics to the more advanced aspects of cinematography. By the end of this guide, whether you are an aspiring filmmaker or just someone who loves movies, this guide will give you all the information you need to know what a cinematographer does. Let's dive right into it!

What is Cinematography?

Cinematography definition is the art and science of motion picture photography. It involves capturing photographic images in the camera and creating the illusion of continuous motion when viewed in sequence. Cinematographers use various techniques to achieve their desired results, including frame rate, shutter speed, focal length, and camera movement.

Cinematography vs. Filmmaking

Cinematography involves cameras, film, and other equipment to capture images and turn them into a finished product. Cinematographers are responsible for the look and feel of a film, and they work closely with the director to ensure that the vision for the project is realized on screen.

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Filmmaking, on the other hand, is the process of making a film from start to finish. This includes everything from writing the script and developing the story to shooting the footage and editing it into a finished product. Filmmakers typically wear many hats and must be able to juggle various tasks throughout the production process.

Basic Elements of Cinematography

The basic aspects of cinematography are the same regardless of the medium used. The cinematographer must understand how to use these elements to create the desired effect.

These elements include;

Lighting in Cinematography

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Cinematographers use lighting to make a scene more dramatic or visually appealing. Lighting also helps to create a sense of depth and texture in a frame and add contrast between the foreground and background, which helps to draw attention to the subject of the scene.

Different types of lighting can be used to create different moods and atmospheres. For example, low-key lighting creates a dark and mysterious atmosphere, while high-key lighting creates a bright and cheerful atmosphere. Cinematographers can also choose from different light sources, such as natural, artificial, and LED light. 

Composition as Used in Cinematography

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Composition is one of the basic elements of cinematography, which is the art of making movies.   How are the various elements of the image arranged? Are the subjects in your picture in the foreground or background? Are they on the right or left side of the frame? All these decisions affect the composition of the image. Cinematographers use composition to create visual interest, tell a story, create a mood, or evoke an emotion.

Camera Movement Use in Cinematography

The camera's movement is one of the most important elements of cinematography. It controls a scene's composition, pacing, tone, and mood and can be used to create different types of shots.

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A tracking shot follows a character or object as it moves through a scene, while a panning shot follows a stationary object or person as they move in a particular direction. A zoom shot focuses on a particular object or character, while a dolly shot creates a sweeping effect that follows a character or object as they move through a scene.

Focus Use in Cinematography

Focus helps to create depth and draw attention to some aspects of the frame. It is used to draw the viewer’s attention to certain elements, such as characters or objects, while also creating a sense of depth within the frame.

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Focus is typically controlled with a lens that can either be manual or auto-focus. Manual focus allows the cinematographer to control the exact degree of focus, while auto-focus adjusts the focus as the camera moves quickly. The focus can also be adjusted in-camera, allowing the cinematographer to set the exact focus points they want in the frame.

Exposure as Used in Cinematography

Cinematographers must balance the exposure of their images to create the desired look, which can be difficult in contrasty scenes. If the image is too dark, it is said to be underexposed, and if it is too bright, it is said to be overexposed. Exposure is the foundation upon which a cinematographer builds the look of their images.

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Using the camera's settings, you can manipulate exposure to create the desired effect. By manipulating the aperture, cinematographers can control the depth of field, allowing them to determine which frame elements will be in focus. Through the use of shutter speed, they can create a variety of motion effects, such as slow motion or fast motion.

Filtration in Cinematography

Filtration is the art of creating motion pictures. It is the use of filters to manipulate and control the light that is captured on film or digital media. Filters can be used to enhance the look of a scene or to balance the lighting in a scene.  

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Filtration can achieve various effects, such as color correction, diffusion, and contrast enhancement. Color correction filters can improve the look of a scene by correcting the white balance, adjusting the color temperature, or adjusting the color saturation. Diffusion filters can soften a scene's look or create a hazy, dream-like effect. Contrast enhancement filters increase the separation between highlights and shadows or reduce the contrast between brighter and darker areas.

What are the Job Responsibilities of a Cinematographer?

What does a cinematographer do? This is a question that can be asked by anyone interested in filmmaking. A cinematographer is a film crew member responsible for the look of the film. They work closely with the director to ensure that the film's visuals match the director's vision.

Before Production

Scouting the location: The cinematographer is responsible for finding the perfect location for the film. They must consider the budget, the type of film, and the production needs.

Working with the director: The cinematographer must work closely with the director to realize the film's vision. This includes discussing the look of the film, the shot list, and the overall aesthetic.

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Planning the shoot: The cinematographer is responsible for the shoot, including the lighting, the camera angles, and the number of takes. They must also ensure that the crew is properly prepared for the shoot.

Checking the camera gear: The cinematographer is responsible for checking the camera gear before the shoot. This includes the lenses, the filters, and the batteries.

During Production

Operating the camera: The cinematographer is responsible for operating the camera during the shoot. This includes setting the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Framing the shots: The cinematographer is responsible for framing the shots, including choosing the right composition and camera angle.

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Adjusting the lighting: The cinematographer is responsible for lighting during the shoot, setting the intensity and the color temperature.

After Production

Editing the footage: The cinematographer is responsible for editing the footage, choosing the right shots, adding transitions, and adding effects.

Color grading: The cinematographer is responsible for color grading the footage. He also adjusts the saturation, the contrast, and the white balance.

Adding sound: The cinematographer is responsible for adding sound to the footage. This includes choosing the right music, adding sound effects, and dubbing.

How to Make Good Cinematography?

There is no one path to becoming a cinematographer, but there are some common steps many people take to enter the field.

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Get a degree in film or a related field. Many cinematographers have a degree in film, but it is not required. Other relevant majors include photography, art, and engineering.

Start working in the film industry in a related role. Many cinematographers start as assistants or in other production roles. This is a great way to learn about the filmmaking process and to make connections with other professionals.

Get experience with different types of cameras and equipment. Cinematographers need to be familiar with various cameras and other filmmaking equipment. One way to gain this experience is to work as a camera operator or assistant camera operator on various film and video projects.

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Develop your style. As you gain experience, you will develop your unique style as a cinematographer. This may be influenced by the type of projects you work on, your aesthetic, and the specific cameras and equipment you use.

Work on high-profile projects. As you build your reputation, you will have the opportunity to work on bigger and more high-profile projects. This can help you further develop your skills and style and lead to more opportunities in the future.

Camera Angles and Shots Types You may Need to Know

You should be aware of a few different types of camera angles and shots. These include:

  • A medium shot shows the subject from the waist up. It captures facial expressions and body language.
  • A close-up shot reveals the subject's face in great detail. It is frequently used to record emotions.

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  • Extreme close-up shots illustrate a close-up of the subject's face, usually just their eyes or mouth. It is often used to capture intense emotions.
  • Extreme long shots display the subject from a very far away. It shows the environment around the subject or the size of something.
  • A point-of-view shot depicts the scene from the subject's perspective. It immerses the viewer in the scene.
  • A high angle is taken from above the subject. It makes the subject look small or powerless.
  • A low angle is taken from below the subject. This way, the subject appears large or powerful.


Cinematography is a complex and ever-evolving field. There is no one right way to do it, and every cinematographer has their unique style. To become a cinematographer, the best way to learn is by doing. Start working on film and video projects, and keep learning as you go. With time and experience, you will develop the skills and knowledge you need to be successful in this field.

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